The Bus Up the Dale

Wesley Harker
Harker’s Coaches

Thomas Wesley Harker (1919–1989) was the son of Arkengarthdale lead mine agent George Harker. The Harkers’ home was Yew Tree House at C. B. Yard. It is probably not coincidence that local novelist Thomas Armstrong chose the name Yew Tree House for the home of mine agent Titus Alderson, in the fictional village of Winterings, in Adam Brunskill (published 1952).

Wesley was taught to drive by the Arkengarthdale schoolmistress, Miss Lee, who lived at C. B. Yard and ran a sports car. He later drove both buses and lorries for Percival’s and Sunter Bros. The first motor Wesley ran on his own account was a big Austin 12 saloon car with seats for six passengers, which he used for school runs and private hires. It is thought that he later ran a motor-van or small lorry as well.

1951 advertisement for the White Store, which at this time was still run by Wesley’s brother-in-law Wilf Coates: David Parker collection.

Wesley Harker married Agnes Rutter—who came from the real-life Winterings, above Gunnerside in Swaledale—in 1949. Together they subsequently took over the White Store in Reeth (part of Alpine Terrace, now a purely residential property) which they kept on until the end of the 1960s. Wesley continued to run saloon cars for school contracts and private hire work, and became a regular Arkengarthdale bus driver for Percival’s—Geoff Lumb of Huddersfield has sent us a photograph of Percival’s buses on Richmond Market Place one Saturday morning in the early 1950s which includes Wesley as driver of one of them (very likely one which had run down from Arkengarthdale to Reeth, and then carried on through to Richmond as a Duplicate for the Swaledale service). Wesley Harker also went on to be an insurance agent and a local rate-collector.

It is sometimes said that Wesley’s first bus was a van which he bought and stuck some seats in. If true, this would follow on nicely in the tradition of the motor-lorry operators of the 1920s who bolted forms or benches to their wagon floors.

Wesley Harker bought a brand-new 12-seater Austin minibus (RPY 934) at the beginning of 1958, which he sold on to the Sunters in the Spring of 1959. This was replaced by an 11-seat Ford (or Thames, if you prefer), also new, which passed to Abbott’s of Leeming in 1960: it is said that this minibus (3 MHN) was the one David Abbott blew a hole in the roof of while examining a shotgun.

After the Ford (or Thames) came a 13-seat Trojan (2328 HN) with slow but frugal Perkins engine. Minibuses like this really were little more than vans with seats bolted in—in many ways ideal for a grocer with a school transport contract—but it is noteworthy that they were all purchased brand-new and sold on when still fairly new.

Wesley Harker as a Percival’s driver, loading essential supplies onto the Arkengarthdale bus in 1962.
Photograph: Swaledale Museum archive.
(The bus is the Leyland Comet, KXU 675, which appears on the Home Page)

In September 1961, after Sunter Bros had withdrawn from P. S. V. work, Wesley replaced that first Trojan with another (750 APY), this one having slightly more civilized coachwork finished by Yeates of Loughborough. This second Trojan was replaced at the beginning of 1963 by a 14-seat Commer BF (8943 HN) which carried a body built to luxury coach specification by Plaxton’s of Scarborough—indeed, if anything, the body was probably too much for the chassis. Prolific P. S. V. photographer R. C. Davis’s shot of this Commer—parked in Reeth, just up from the White Store—appears in the jubilee history of Plaxton’s edited by Alan Townsin and published in 1982; and we’ve managed to get hold of a copy for The Bus Up the Dale too. The vehicle itself survives to this day, preserved since the 1990s after many years of further service in the fleet of Nottinghamshire operator Clarke’s of Newthorpe.

It was in the Summer of 1970 that Wesley bought his first larger coach, a second-hand 29-seat Bedford (MNJ 854 F), and in February 1972—by which time Percival’s were off the road—he took delivery of a similar vehicle, this time brand-new, and with a registration (WVN 295 K) booked to match his telephone number, Reeth 295—likewise his Austin Three Litre hire car carried the registration RVN 295 H (similarly, Atkinson’s of Ingleby Arncliffe traditionally booked 222 registrations to match their telephone number, East Harlsey 222).

On the demise of Percival’s in the Summer of 1971, Wesley Harker took over the Arkengarthdale service which Percival’s had acquired with the Scratcherds’ bus operation in 1938, and on which Wesley had himself driven for Percival’s since the 1950s. His 29-seater was employed on this run as well as on school transport and private hire work.

By the time of Wesley’s death in 1989, Harker’s Coaches could boast a fleet comprising two 45-seat coaches, a 12-seat minibus and a hire car, all of them invariably immaculate. Agnes Harker carried on the business, with the assistance of her niece Freda and Freda’s husband Malcolm Terry, until her death ten years later. Malcolm and Freda Terry then took on the business, which—with their son Paul and their daughter Fiona as regular drivers—continues as a Reeth-based P. S. V. operator to this day, with a variety of local school contracts and private hire work. Until recently, a Market Day service to Leyburn and an “ on demand ” service up Arkengarthdale were also operated under County contract.

For private hire, telephone Richmond (01748) 884533 or 884977. Incidentally—Harker’s Coaches of Swaledale is not the same firm as Harker’s Coaches of South Shields (a point which both operators occasionally find themselves having to make, we gather)!

Malcolm Terry died on 18th September 2014, much regretted by the family. His funeral in Reeth was extremely well attended, with a number of local busmen, grateful hirers, and former school bus passengers among the mourners crowding Reeth Wesleyan Chapel.
Malcolm is seen here in the Summer of 2007 with their 24-seater, ready to collect Reeth Primary School children from the Richmond swimming baths.
Photograph: Reuben Frankau.

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